DEVELOPER: Data East (port by Sega)
GENRE: Action platformer
RELEASE DATE: 07/02/88 – (JP), 1988 – (EU), 09/89 – (US)
No, Captain Silver is not based on the fabled “Silver Surfer” / Long John Silver crossover. In the game, you play as Jim Aykroyd, a confused man who has taken it upon himself to seek the lost treasure of pirate magnate, Captain Silver, as if that was ever a good idea. Jim is not a pirate, but he does love pantaloons, swashbuckling, and copious amounts of bathtub rum, so he’s able to fit in with them to an extent. Nevertheless, everyone’s against him, from pirates to witches to jungle natives to the re-animated bones of Captain Silver himself. Defeat the supposedly deceased pirate, get the treasure, and sail to a secluded monastery, where old pirate bones dare not tread.
Jim begins his journey in a small seaport town around Halloween. Wolves, jack-o-lanterns, and Cheshire cats team up to thwart his progress. To defend himself against them and the other threats along the way, Jim has a cutlass, which can be upgraded up to three times by collecting fairies (Data East really pulled from all sorts of differing mythologies here). When your sword is upgraded one time, it will shoot a star that travels across the screen. Upgrading the sword three times allows you to shoot five stars that spread in every direction in front of you. Jim can collect other power-ups as well, like shoes which give him Mario-like jumping abilities for a limited time, and herbs which allow him to take a hit before death. The latter is crucial. Impressive star slashing skills notwithstanding, without the herb power-up, Jim can only take one hit before his adventure comes to a anticlimactic, shrieking end. You sometimes find these power-ups around town, but shops also appear in stages one, three, and five (stage five only available in the European and Japanese versions of the game)*.
Because Jim’s a pushover, Captain Silver can be a downright difficult undertaking. Like Shinobi, memorizing enemy movements and placements is crucial to progress. The game’s rhythm is such that an enemy is never too far away, particularly the flying creatures, like bats, hawks, and moths. Do your best not to die and hang on to the sword upgrades, particularly if your sword is shooting three or five stars. Once you’ve got them, fire repeatedly like Captain Silver is a shmup and Jim’s your trustworthy, human-shaped ship.
Captain Silver has several concrete flaws: the tuneless music, the shrill sound effects, and the fact that Jim has to be one of the least interesting protagonists ever. Also, not sure what’s with his character design. He looks like a fat retired cop of olde in the game, yet on the cover and on the ending screen, he’s Orlando Bloom circa 2003? Despite these very real issues, my time with Captain Silver was enjoyable to the bitter groggy end. The platforming is well-paced (pacing is something I’m appreciating more in older action platformers), Jim controls like a tight sober sailor and the environments are varied and colorful (and the level continuity – from the town to the final confrontation with Cap Silver on the mountain – is great). No matter how many deaths I accrued as Jim, he kept coming back for more. How much stamina does Jim have? How badly does he want this treasure? Jim might be a boring main character, but his incorrigible refusal to stay dead inspired me.
*Captain Silver is one of the finest action games on the Master System, but the American version is sadly incomplete. The latter only has four levels, two bosses, and a text-only ending, while the Captain Silver released in Japan and Europe has six levels, six bosses, and an ending complete with pictures and text. Naturally, the American version was easier and, at 1 Megabit, far less costly to produce compared to the Japanese/European version’s 2 Megabits. But cost hasn’t stopped Sega from releasing expensive games before (see: Phantasy Star). To my knowledge, this is the first time I’ve played a Sega game where they intentionally reduced the amount of in-game content provided for a specific territory. Did they just assume that American gamers wouldn’t be too crazy about controlling a dude in a puffy shirt? Was Sega feeling lazy, jaded, or annoyed at their lack of an American fanbase? Either way, they dropped the ball. Get the import if you have to. Don’t let Sega steal your extra bit o’ Yarrr.